MORE to BROWSE - Pages that might be of Interest

Tuesday, 19 September 2017



All nations: a mixture of the dregs of alcohol left in bottles.
Anne’s fan: a disturbance or thumbing your nose at the rules.
Bagpiper: a long-winded talker.
Bark at the moon: to waste your breath.
Bear garden jaw: foul language.
Beggar maker: a publican or taverner.
Belly gut: a greedy or lazy person.
Bring to one’s bearings: to see common sense.
Bull calf: someone who is clumsy.
Calfskin fiddle: a drum.
Cat sticks: thin legs..
Clodpoll: an idiot.
Cold cook: an undertaker.
Dutch concert: everyone playing or singing a different tune.
Eternity box: a coffin.
Fire a gun: to speak without tact.
Fish broth: saltwater.
Fly in a tar box: excited.
Full as a goat: very drunk.
Grog: watered rum.
Grog blossom: a drunkard.
Groggified: very drunk.
Gundiguts: a fat person.
Gut-foundered: hungry.
Handsomely: quickly or carefully.
Hang the jib: to pout or frown..
Hempen halter: a noose.
Higgling cart: a special cart used by hawkers or peddlers.
Hog in armour: a boastful lout.
Hornswaggle: to cheat, or trick.
Horse’s meal: food without a drink.
Hot: a concocted mixture of gin and brandy served warm.
Jack Ketch: an English executioner, his name became synonymous with hanging.
Jaw me down: a talkative fellow.
Loaded to the gunwale: drunk.
Look like God’s revenge against murder – very angry.
Lumping pennyworth: a bargain.
Marry old boots: to marry another man’s mistress.
Measured fer yer chains: to be imprisoned..
Ope: an opening or passageway between buildings..
Paper skull: a fool.
Pipe: a wine cask which held up to 105 gallons.
Pipe tuner: a crybaby.
Pump ship: urinate.
Rabbit hunting with a dead ferret: a pointless exercise.
Remedy critch: a chamberpot.
Ride to fetch the midwife: be in haste.
Run a rig: to play a trick, to cheat someone.
Rusty guts: a surly fellow.
Scallywag: a scoundrel.
Snail’s gallop: to go very slowly.
Soose: a coin.
Spanish trumpeter: a donkey.
Take a caulk: take a nap.
Tilly tally: nonsense.
Trodden on your/my eye: a black eye..
Turned off: hanged.


From Pirates! Truth and Tales
by Helen Hollick
In 1724 Captain Charles Johnson published a book entitled A General History of the Robberies and Murders of the most notorious Pyrates. From it we get our concept of pirates and piracy in the ‘golden age’ of the early 18th century and our main source of information about the more notorious rogues. It has tales of what we take as typical pirates with missing limbs, eye-patches, parrots and burying their treasure. Originally published as two volumes the first, more or less respects recorded detail, although with a few exaggerated fictional flourishes, and covered the 1700s pirates, while the second delved into the earlier 1600s buccaneers and is harder to believe for accuracy - it is more fiction than fact.

Because its publication is contemporary with the height of piracy, the 1700s section is usually regarded as being fairly accurate, although one man’s view can be biased and who is to say what is fact and what is fiction? There is one enormous difficulty with the book, however. We have no idea who Charles Johnson was, as the name is a pseudonym. There was no Captain Johnson recorded as a ship’s master (nor anyone in the military.) The author very obviously had a good knowledge of all things nautical, so must have been a sailor (or a pirate?) and shows a detailed knowledge of the pirates, their lives and their exploits. There was a writer called Johnson who produced a work entitled The Successful Pirate about Henry Avery in 1712, but he did not write The General History. Maybe the writer did not want his name linked with piracy? Which leads to the question... why not?

There have been various attempts to identify his (or her!) true identity, but to date nothing definite has materialised. There are several candidates, so here are some suggestions put forward by various scholars - and a couple of my own theories.

You can come to your own conclusions.

NATHANIAL MIST: a sailor, journalist and printer and who had his own printing press is a popular candidate. Arrested and tried for sedition on several occasions he was fined £50 in 1720, sent to the pillory and three months in jail for his passionate Jacobite tendencies. (Freedom of speech and democratic political beliefs were not embraced in the 18th century.)

Bitterly opposing the Whig government he used the pages of his highly successful Mist’s Weekly Journal to attack Robert Walpole and King George (I) of Hanover. He frequently published his articles using a false name as author, or for the person he was condemning, although all his readers knew who he was talking about. 

(As example, if I were to mention Donald Rump and John Borrison, I think you would know who I meant.)

He also used a variety of authors who employed pen names, Daniel Defoe being one of them, despite being a known Whig supporter, an established spy and placed by the government to keep an eye on Mist, a fact which Defoe himself later confirmed. 

In 1727 Mist went a step too far by libelling the King and he fled to France, although his news sheets continued to be printed. A year later his presses were vandalised and destroyed. The journal was subsequently renamed and the still exiled Mist was spurred into supporting the Jacobite cause as much as he could. Maybe his efforts went too far, for by 1734 he had been ostracised by his fellow Jacobites, and in due course he was permitted to return to England. He died in September 1737. 

So what might connect him to The General History? It was first printed by Charles Rivington who had produced several of Mist’s books prior to 1724. The book was registered in Mist’s name at Her Majesty's Stationery Office. This does not necessarily mean he wrote it but was merely the publisher.

As a sailor, Mist may well have personally encountered some of the men and actions related in the book, but why would an active anti-government politician, who was determined to ridicule and lampoon the Whigs, suddenly decide to write a two-volume part-fictional book, under an assumed name, about pirates? A work that had absolutely nothing to do with politics?

DANIEL DEFOE: Born in 1660 in London is famous for the novels Robinson Crusoe and Moll Flanders. He has often been cited as being Charles Johnson because he was a writer of that era and produced several vaguely similar works in a similar style. Some copies of the book are even published with his name on the cover. Yet he published none of his other most interesting works under a made-up name, so why would he do so for this one?

His family name, of Flemish background, was Foe, his father being a tallow chandler. As a boy he would have experienced some of the most fearful events of London’s history, mainly the Great Plague of 1665 where over 70,000 Londoners died, and the Great Fire of London in 1666 where, in the area where he lived, the Foe’s house and two others were left intact.

Well educated, he had initially been expected to join the Presbyterian Ministry, but he preferred to become a merchant dealing with various mercantile goods and travelling widely in order to purchase and sell them. Unfortunately he went bankrupt by £17,000.

In his early thirties he travelled to Europe and by the time he returned to England, around 1695, he had changed his name to ‘Defoe’. Perhaps to escape more debtors? 

Another business venture failed while he was in prison in 1703 for political offences. He had written several political-based pamphlets writing against Catholic James II and had joined the ill-fated Monmouth Rebellion, escaping the disastrous result of Sedgemoor by the skin of his teeth. With James fleeing into exile three years later, Defoe heartily welcomed William of Orange and Queen Mary, becoming the leading royal pamphleteer. (He would have made a good modern-day political spin-doctor.) In 1701 he published The True-Born Englishman, a witty poem about racial prejudices that he confessed to be extremely proud of. 

War with Europe, Spain in particular, was again looming. In 1701 five men from Kent called for better defences of the coast by handing a petition to Parliament and the then Tory government. They were immediately, and illegally, sent to prison. Showing great courage Defoe confronted the Speaker of the Commons, Robert Harley, with a document reminding the politicians that ‘Englishmen are no more to be slaves to Parliaments than to a King,’ referring, of course to the days of English Civil War, King Charles I and Cromwell. The Kentishmen were released and Defoe proclaimed a hero. Except by the Tory government who thereafter regarded him as a Whig supporter and a great danger.

As a Dissenter, Defoe then became embroiled in religious matters, which at this time were barely separate from political issues. He was accused of sedition and in May 1703 arrested, fined and sentenced to endure three days in the pillory. His literary popularity won out, however, for instead of pelting him with the traditional rotten garbage the ‘audience’ garlanded the pillory with flowers and heartily drank his health. 

Sent back to Newgate prison to complete his punishment, his business collapsed and the welfare of his wife and eight children suffered. He appealed to Harley who eventually agreed his release, which meant Defoe had to work for him in return. Harley was the government spymaster, which meant Defoe became a spy. (You are permitted to hum the James Bond theme here.) (And incidentally, Harley appears in the Fifth Sea Witch Voyage: On the Account.)
 Defoe seems to have enjoyed his new role as it meant doing the things he enjoyed: travel and writing reports and pamphlets. In 1704 he reproduced eyewitness statements in what is believed to be the first piece of modern journalism when he wrote in detail about the Great Storm of the previous year which devastated miles of southern England, uprooted thousands of trees, destroyed hundreds of homes and killed more than 8,000 people. 

The Act of Union with Scotland in 1707 gave him the opportunity to travel North of the Border and keep his new master, Harley, informed of events and public opinion. Between 1724 and 1726 he published three volumes of his Tour Through the Whole Island of Great Britain.

Not all his writing was political, he originally published several works of a spiritual and moral nature anonymously, and it is believed that in all he produced more than 500 titles as novels, satirical poems, essays, articles and religious and political pamphlets. 

But. He does not seem to have written much about ships, shipping or nautical matters. Nor pirates.

During Queen Anne’s reign, from 1704 to 1713, he produced The Review a serious and in-depth newspaper written almost entirely by himself. Initially a weekly publication it expanded to three times a week, even continuing while Defoe was again imprisoned by his political opponents. It unashamedly discussed politics, religion, trade and morals and was a forerunner of the modern people’s press. 

No pirates though.

With the crowning of George of Hanover after Anne’s death in 1714 the Tory government gave way to the Whigs, who in turn came to value Defoe’s writing and ‘intelligence’ talents. He produced various other work, most notably in 1722 with the appearance of Moll Flanders, A Journal of the Plague Year, and Colonel Jack, his last work of fiction being Roxana published in 1724. He died on 24th April 1731, but his most famous book, Robinson Crusoe had been published in 1719, based on the real marooning of Andrew Selkirk, with information supplied by Governor Woodes Rogers. 

Robinson Crusoe was not about pirates, though was it?

There does not seem to be much in Defoe’s life to connect him with the in-depth detail and knowledge of the sea, sailing and sailors explored in Johnson’s book. Where would Defoe have found the time to write something he knew very little about? He was a political, religious and moralistic writer who followed the common writer’s advice of ‘write what you know.’ Admitted he knew nothing about being marooned on a desert island for four years, but he did meet Selkirk, and like all good journalists, he would have squeezed every bit of the story out of him then turned it into an exciting, and highly profitable, read.

As for pirates… there is absolutely no connection.

WOODES ROGERS: My favourite candidate is Governor Woodes Rogers. 
  • He was in England, having temporarily retired as Governor of the Bahamas, and was facing debtor’s prison. 
  • He knew a lot about sailing and pirates
  • He claimed that he was approached by a man who intended to write a history of piracy, and dutifully supplied him with detailed information. This man, he said, was Johnson.
  • The General History was a ‘best seller’ on both sides of the Atlantic and Rogers found himself a national hero for the second time. Why? All he did was talk to a man who was writing a book.
  • His connection with the book, and presumably Johnson, made him rich again. 
  • Because of the nature of the book, and being, no doubt, concerned that someone might take offence, not least some of the still living pirates, he used the pen name and kept his identity secret. 
  • Rogers knew Daniel Defoe.
  • Daniel Defoe knew Nathanial Mist.
  • Ergo...Woodes Rogers was Charles Johnson.

Naturally I have absolutely no proof of this, but does it not make logical sense? 

More fancifully, we do not know what happened to Anne Bonny. Perhaps she wrote the book as a memoir of her days at sea? Henry Jennings had retired to his Barbados plantation. Could he have been the author? Or I could attribute its writing to my pirate, Jesamiah Acorne in a future Voyage of the Sea Witch

Now, there’s a thought …

Released on
a novella e-book:
how Jesamiah Acorne became a pirate!

details soon!


  1. Very well argued, Helen! So many ifs, buts and perhaps-es! Perhaps whoever the author was used the name Johnson to capitalise on the popularity of the earlier book? Or as a 'nod' to that author? Woodes Rogers does seem a viable candidate (I had never heard of him before reading Sea Witch) from your reasoning. Perhaps Jesamiah might have met Defoe and introduced him to Selkirk? Or at least told him about him? Ah, the worms we release when we open the can!!!

    1. not giving secrets away but .... yes Jesamiah will be bumping into Defoe in a future Voyage!


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